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Great Content Marketing Doesn’t Depend on Luck

Nearly every business engages in content marketing today, but many do so without direction or consistency. Publishing random videos on TikTok and writing a blog post every now and then isn’t sufficient for attracting enough customers — or the right ones.

If you’re not strategic about content creation and promotion, you could inadvertently damage your reputation and erode trust with your target audience. This is especially true when you’re trying to reach a savvy, skeptical audience like software developers.

After working with over 60 clients to write highly specialized marketing content over the past year, I went on Fundraising Radio to share some of our insights. Konstantin Dubovitskiy and I talked about some of the fundamental content marketing principles all startups should align with — and what to avoid — when trying to find your first customers.

Below is a summary of our call, but you should check out the entire episode here.

Content Marketing vs. Direct Sales 

Although it might seem like content should be one of the first items on your entrepreneurial to-do list, content marketing is not mandatory for every business in the beginning. In fact, the decision to start a content engine there shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Early-stage companies that don’t have content marketing embedded into their culture probably want to hold off until they’ve got the resources to hire a full-time content manager. Creating content is not cheap and the payoff term is long, so you need to consider your bottom line when your resources are thin.

Pre-seed founders are often better served by direct sales to get the ball rolling. The time and energy your team dedicates to generating content could be wasted if your company doesn’t survive long enough to see results.

You need to understand your company’s bandwidth before taking on content marketing, as getting a sale in the first year or two is much more important than writing a thousand pieces of content.

One reason founders lean on content is fear. Ask yourself if you harbor some fear around cold outreach or sales?

It might feel easier to write a bunch of blog posts than to talk to 100 customers, but content needs to be intentional. You shouldn’t do it just because you’re afraid of talking to people.

Startup Content Marketing Mistakes

If writing, video production, or another content-related skill is native to you and your team, or if you’ve brought an expert in to help, the time is probably right to build your content base.

The biggest mistakes I see technical founders making when they initiate content marketing include:

1. Lack of Strategy 

It can be tempting to emulate big companies with a presence on nearly every medium by throwing content out there haphazardly. When you do it this way, you waste precious resources, and you’ll probably waste a lot on content that flops. You need to have a proper digital content strategy.

If you don’t know the answer to questions like these, you probably need to flesh out buyer personas and understand your target customers better first.

How to avoid this mistake: 

  • Tap into your existing audience first. Do you have an email list? Revamp your newsletter with more robust content to test it out.
  • Consider your readers’ state of mind when they consume your content. People probably aren’t on TikTok to buy B2B marketing software.
  • Build sales enablement content. Answer commonly asked questions about your product or address pain points with your early content so it can support your sales goals.

2. Failure to Promote  

Once you’ve produced a fantastic piece of content, your work isn’t over. Many business owners underinvest in promotion, hoping that a few social posts will be enough to make the article go viral.

The problem is that you’re competing with a world of content that’s moving all the time. It’s naive to assume readers will magically come across your blog post or helpful guide organically without some intention.

How to avoid this mistake:

There are several strategies for promoting content with limited resources.

  • Share the link in appropriate subreddits. If you’ve never used Reddit, there could be a learning curve here. Slice up your content and use it to answer questions in relevant communities.
  • Post on your personal social accounts. Ask your employees to do the same, and be sure to post multiple times over a year.
  • Recycle your content. Many people forget to reshare a blog post or video more than once. You can remember to recycle by spacing out several uniquely phrased posts on a quarterly content calendar.
  • Reach out to industry newsletters. Some will accept submissions if the content is highly relevant to their audience.
  • Run ads if you think there will be ROI. It’s unlikely you’ll see a return on top-of-funnel ads, but you might choose to put some spend behind content that’s intended to drive sales. Retargeting ads are a powerful way to grab the people who have already visited your blog.

I’ve also written a complete content promotion checklist that might help you push more traffic to your pieces.

3. Publishing Inconsistently

Posting sporadically or giving up when you don’t see results in the first three to six months isn’t a recipe for content marketing success.

When you realize how long building a content engine takes, it can be disheartening. But lack of consistency will kill any forward progress you make, so you have to stick with it.

How to avoid this mistake:

For some, there’s a fear factor underneath this content inconsistency.

It can be scary to put yourself and your company values out there — particularly if you’re shaking up a space. In this case, the remedy is to do it repeatedly until you recondition yourself to believe that there are people out there who need to hear what your brand has to say.

Business Competitions: A Brand-Building Opportunity

Some marketing channels require that you let go of stage fright.

I once worked for a startup whose founders appeared on the popular TV show, SharkTank, so I saw firsthand the effect of sweeping market visibility that big events (like being featured on a popular pitch show) can provide.

Funding competitions can build brand awareness quicker than traditional marketing strategies for consumer products, but they aren’t free. In the case of Shark Tank, you have to give up equity, and there’s always an opportunity cost associated with these kinds of channels.

Building Up Once You Have a Content Foundation 

Once you’re deep into a consistent content publishing routine, you’ll want to regularly assess how it’s going and, ideally, get more strategic with Search Engine Optimization

Adding elements like keyword research helps your content move up the ranks on Google and will likely improve your marketing outcomes in the long run.

Most businesses should be doing some form of content marketing. But it won’t work unless it’s strategic. You don’t want luck-based marketing. That’s a dangerous, expensive game.

Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.